Critics’ Picks

View of “Alicja Kwade, Louise Nevelson: Face-à-face,” 2021.

View of “Alicja Kwade, Louise Nevelson: Face-à-face,” 2021.


Alicja Kwade and Louise Nevelson

Kamel Mennour | Rue Saint-André des Arts
47 Rue Saint-André des Arts
June 3–July 24, 2021

Kamel Mennour’s two-woman show devoted to Louise Nevelson and Alicja Kwade might be titled Face-à-face, but it’s really more of a cadavre exquis. The two sculptors were born eighty years apart—Nevelson in 1899, in what is now Ukraine, Kwade in 1979 in Poland. Here, Kwade “reacts” to a selection of Nevelson's 1970s-era pieces with new and pre-existing works of her own.

Nevelson studied drama with Frederick Kiesler, gravitated toward Martha Graham’s dance work, and admired Pre-Colombian art. These influences are felt in her charred black wood totems, whose dense chromatic homogeneity allows their formal diversity to come to the fore. Kwade’s works are airier, more roguish compositions, although she too shares the anterior artist’s appreciation for gothic noir surfaces, notably black patina over copper. When selected for the Met's Roof Garden Commission two years ago, the New York Times stated she “tweaked the rules of physics.” Her pieces feel less cosmically loaded here and more in kinship with Nevelson, thanks to their more modest scale.

The principal biographical parallel between the two artist is the experience of emigrating young (to the United States and West Germany, respectively). Given this, they share an existential understanding of the force of dislocation—expressed in their art though the decontextualizatiion of brut resources like wood and metal, which ultimately come to reveal their own visual vocabulary. “The material I use has nothing to do with association and origin,” Nevelson once said, “. . . All objects are retranslated.” One gets the sense she would have appreciated Kwade’s aesthetic approach to the concept of retranslation, be it in Hypothetisches Gebilde, 2017—a kind of circuitous, hydra-headed trombone—or in 36 disconnected futures (sound wood), 2010, an assemblage of wood planks and instrument silhouettes propped against the wall. The contemporary sculptor seems to lightly—and affectionately—tease Nevelson’s legacy, creating a playful rapport across the generational divide.